where now?

For a while now I’ve been thinking about where we are in our exploration of being church beyond the traditional definition.

Honestly? Sometimes it feels a bit like the best answer would be nowhere.

This stark thought has been rattling around my head for the past few days, coming up in several conversations, and perhaps highlighting a problem that just isn’t going away.

This simple urge to be together with others exploring life, faith and community.

So, why not just find a church that works and get back into it?

At the moment – I don’t know.

But I can tell you is that this is where I’m at.

I can’t imagine walking through the door and within minutes being separated from our children, as they’re whisked off to ‘have fun’ and we’re left to ‘focus on God’. What does this communicate to us? That children distract us from the real stuff?

I’d rather be part of something that recognises that we see the creator in every part of creation, young and old, and that church means family, means learning from each other. It doesn’t mean a ‘family service’ where everything feels a little dumbed down. How about a place where we teach our kids to be theologians as well as disciples? I’d be up for that.

I can’t imagine being together with people, all facing one direction, having to sing songs trying to tug at my emotions for a big old chunk of time, avoiding eye contact at all costs whilst wondering why we’re singing that chorus again.

I’d rather listen to some songs from distinctly secular artists, or read a book of poems or stories or thoughts, or walk through a gallery, or play a game and be inspired by the creative force that runs through everything and everybody.  I’d love then to be able to share about these beautiful discoveries with those around me, poking and challenging and creating and hoping and dreaming our way to an idea of who and what we might possibly meant to be.

I can’t imagine sitting in a room, listening to one voice telling us what the Bible says as if it’s as simple as ABC, turning this beautifully confusing, multi-faceted narrative into a ‘how to…’ guide for modern living.

I’d rather sit down with a bunch of friends and talk about life in all its splendid messiness, trying to figure out where God is in the middle of it. I’d love to wrestle with a text that confuses and confounds, and yet still remains oddly captivating. I long for a conversation, for a chance to listen and be listened to, not simply told.  I want to be part of a group of people who shape the world around us, rather than point fingers at just how bad it all is.
I don’t know if I’m ever going to find this ‘thing’ that I long for.

Maybe I just need to get over myself, or lower my expectations. Nothing is perfect. Deal with it

Or maybe I need to do something about it this time.  My instinct is that this is possible.

7 thoughts on “where now?

  1. Here is my shorter response, will email you my longer response exploring each element in your article

    Perhaps your frustration with ‘church’ is related to a difference between church as event compared to church as being.

    The Sunday stuff is an event which over time, for many, has come to be understood as the be all and focal point of Christian being whereas it can serve as a useful facet of being church but certainly is not the only or best or most important aspect of being church. It is often a passive event and even isolating event. Perhaps the greater the number of people attending then the more passive and isolating the event is.

    Clearly your experiences of church have been isolating. Often I stand in a service and people watch more than sing the songs with heart felt passion, asking myself are other people getting something I am not?

    All institutions are made in the image of …. someone’s spirituality/personality and thus may well speak deeply to some but be a great silence to others. Tension comes when one example is held up as the best/only/biblical model. The same is true for each part of the church service. The arguments churches go through over worship etc is one about whose personality/spirituality is controlling.

    I wonder what your expectations of a Christian community are and thus what you would expect a community modelled after your own wants would look like. Perhaps you would benefit from a so called modern monastic community rather than church. A smaller group of like minded people who live out their spirituality in a community with a stronger affiliation and give permission to each other to live more intimately in terms of sharing or speaking into each other’s lives.

    1. Wise words, as ever Richard. I agree – especially with your last paragraph. It’s been something that I’ve thought a lot about over the last few years, but haven’t really been able to tip over thought into action. Paralysis of fear of the unknown, perhaps?

      I think that the key thing I’m wrestling here with is how I do this with my family, rather going off on my own spiritual pilgrimage – which would be very easy (and at present the reality of the group that meets in the pub). There has to be a better way than the homogenous unit principle most churches embrace.

      And please continue the dialogue here – it might stimulate more posting!

      1. I would guess that most ‘churches’ would not label themselves homogeneous units and yet that is what they are. They may say they are open to all types but many are full of clones. Now clearly I think like does attract like and it is certainly easier to teach setted classes rather than mixed ability and I guess leading a homogeneous church is easier perhaps. All churches are contextual and thus have a particular spirituality which they manifest in their life. One of my favourite old missiologist is a RC thinker,Robert Schreiter and I have his book constructing local theologies in which he explore syncretism church and culture. It took longer for evangelicals to catch on to what they call contextualization.

        In order for a relationship such as marriage to fully function compromise is needed-and in bigger/broader relationships such as communities even more comprise is needed for people to feel fully involved then the community needs to serve some of their needs. So I guess for you there needs to be a level of compromise in the exercising of spirituality by all members of your family – what that looks like I do not have the authority to say. perhaps reading material by Shane Claybourne? Et Al may help plan something, in the short term a pint and a chat may keep you going short term although my social class makes me choose a G&T!

      2. Compromise is vital – you’re right. I guess I have to think about what I might be prepared to compromise on!

        Having a g&t rather than a pint of ale is one such compromise! We must meet again and soon. A group of us will be in the Pig and Pickle on Sunday night if you would be interested! We’ve been reading more of Peter Rollins work (The Divine Magician this time) but I’m sure you’d be more than welcome.

  2. Ok a deeper reflection of different aspects of your post. I fully agree with your last few paragraphs but still hold on to attending a local church despite my frustration and confusion with what they do.

    If the church event is focussed on learning from an expert rather than the blind leading the blind then I guess we set the groups by age and have age appropriate ‘experts’. If the priority of the church is gaining knowledge then those who have trained / studied the subject perhaps have more to contribute, although there are assumptions here about the Christian text and whether it has one ahistorical meaning for all or whether there are multi, contextual meanings brought about through a combination of human reason and HS.

    If we are to test the spirits to see which come from God then I suppose there must be some standard by which to compare all things.

    The problem for many is that our education system has moved away from a lecture style into interactive etc and yet the sermon remains a passive, observer event in many cases. Perhaps it is inevitable that in large churches this is more normal.

    Other church’s may focus on religious experience or encounter and so getting people into a position of estatic encounter through worship and use of emotion may again be age related but perhaps more all age. But if emotion is not the centre of your spirituality you can feel more of an observer.

    All churches have their own vocabulary, shared language and common assumptions again which are age dependent and so again perhaps they separate off ages to use age related language.

    Perhaps the fear of lack of organisation and the disruption of little ones to ordered services may contribute to the splitting up of families etc.

    In the end I think it comes back to why we meet together what do we want/expect to get out of it.

    1. Therein lies our challenge – all communities rightfully develop their own language, practices and culture – but how we remain open to the whosoever (including all ages) remains a tricky problem.

      Having been the ‘expert’ (and now finding myself in a similar role in the classroom!) I empathise with your point, whilst also wanting to point towards a more democratised process. Who is an expert? Is there even a need for one? Whose voice may be missed if we insist on a specific level of wisdom/knowledge or experience?

      I think a key point is found in you penultimate paragraph – the splitting up of families. That’s a stark statement isn’t it? I think perhaps I’m also concerned about we parents giving away our responsibility to nurture our children in this vital area.

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